Summary

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from "Defence of Fort M'Henry",[2] a poem written on September 14, 1814, by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large American flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the American victory.

The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. "To Anacreon in Heaven" (or "The Anacreontic Song"), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", it soon became a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one octave and one fifth (a semitone more than an octave and a half), it is known for being difficult to sing. Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of American officialdom. "Hail, Columbia" served this purpose at official functions for most of the 19th century. "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", whose melody is identical to "God Save the Queen", the British national anthem,[3] also served as a de facto anthem.[4] Following the War of 1812 and subsequent American wars, other songs emerged to compete for popularity at public events, among them "The Star-Spangled Banner", as well as "America the Beautiful".


Lyrics

Complete version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" showing spelling and punctuation from Francis Scott Key's manuscript in the Maryland Historical Society collection. O say can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket's red glare, the bomb bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there, O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, In full glory reflected now shines in the stream, 'Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave! And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion A home and a Country should leave us no more? Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation! Blest with vict'ry and peace may the heav'n rescued land Praise the power that hath made and preserv'd us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto - "In God is our trust," And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Lyrics with Meaning  

Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 1

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


Meaning of Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 1

The flag that flew over the fort was enormous. The commander of Fort Henry, Important George Armistead had commissioned Mary Pickersgill to make "a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance"
The flag could be seen from several miles away and Francis Scott Key was saying that it could be seen in the last light before nightfall and the first light at dawn
The 'perilous fight' was the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812
The Star Spangled Banner was streaming over the ramparts (battlements) of the fort
The "rocket's red glare" and the "bombs bursting" used alliteration to describe the cannon fire pounding from the British navy and the cannons firing from the fort (one of the ships was armed with a rocket launcher)
The angry red glow from the cannon fire enabled Americans to see their Star Spangled Banner was still flying - the British had not captured the fort and hoisted the Union Jack
The Star Spangled Banner was waving over the 'land of the free' - a reference to the fight for Independence that had resulted in freedom from the tyranny of the British
The 'home of the brave' lyrics reflect the heroic exploits of Americans to defend their country
The War of 1812 was popularly known as the 'Second War for Independence'


Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 2

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Meaning of Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 2

Francis Scott Key was describing the perspective from the land as American looked out to hazy images of the British ships
The 'foe's haughty host' lyrics describe the vessels of the arrogant British
The lyrics 'dread silence reposes' express the view of the ships that look quiet and still as if resting, but are actually a hive of terrifying activity
Francis Scott Key describes the high vertical position of the flag over Fort Henry in the lyrics 'o'er the towering steep' and the movement of the flag blowing in the wind, concealing then revealing the Star Spangled Banner
The sun comes out and clearly shines on the Star Spangled Banner, 'in full glory' lyrics express the grandeur of the flag and a religious connotation
Francis Scott Key almost makes the Star Spangled Banner lyrics 'cheer' using the patriotic words "Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave. O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"


Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 3

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Meaning of Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 3

Francis Scott Key describes the British as arrogant and boastful in the lyrics 'that band who so vauntingly swore'
He is venting his anger at the British with the "foul footsteps' pollution" lyrics inferring that the British poisoned the ground on which they walked
But the poison and corruption had been washed away by the blood of the British
The Star Spangled Banner lyrics "the hireling " refers to the British use of Mercenaries (German Hessians) in the American War of Independence
The Star Spangled Banner lyrics "...and slave" is a direct reference to the British practice of Impressment (kidnapping American seamen and forcing them into service on British man-of war ships). This was a Important cause of the War of 1812
Francis Scott Key then describes the Star Spangled Banner as a symbol of triumph over all adversity


Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 4

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Meaning of Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 4

Pride and Patriotism is the theme of the last verse
Francis Scott Key uses emotive words such as 'freeman', 'home', 'blest', 'victory', 'triumph', 'conquer' and 'peace' in the Star Spangled Banner lyrics
He was a deeply religious man and his words reflect his belief that God was on the side of the Americans
He refers to the American nation and fighting for a just cause
The words "In God is our trust" combines the concepts of religion and patriotism and are believed to be the origin of the official motto of the United States "In God we trust". The unofficial motto of 'E pluribus unum' which was adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created in 1782

Even from Snopes:

In fairness, it has also been argued that Key may have intended the phrase as a reference to the British Navy’s practice of impressment (kidnapping sailors and forcing them to fight in defense of the crown), or as a semi-metaphorical slap at the British invading force as a whole (which included a large number of mercenaries), though the latter line of thinking suggests an even stronger alternative theory — namely, that the word “hirelings” refers literally to mercenaries, and “slaves” refers literally to slaves. It doesn’t appear that Francis Scott Key ever specified what he did mean by the phrase, nor does its context point to a single, definitive interpretation.

Key originally wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a patriotic poem first published in a Baltimore newspaper shortly after the event that inspired it. Set to the tune of the popular English song “To Anacreon in Heaven,” it became an unofficial national anthem during the 19th century, was officially adopted as such by executive order of President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and confirmed by Congress as the national anthem of the United States in 1931.


References:
wikipedia.com                    america-historama.com                  snopes.com